When the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released new guidelines on hiring people with criminal records, many Pennsylvania employers became aware of the issue for the first time. Unlike other groups protected by federal labor laws, the issue of discrimination against people with criminal records is largely unknown. Even employers who put a priority on proper training in equal opportunity laws may not know that this type of discrimination is illegal under the Civil Rights Act.
The Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination that is based on age, race, national origin, gender, or disability status. This means that employers can't discriminate for those reasons and also that they can't have a policy that results in discrimination against members of those protected classes. This is known as the disparate impact rule.
Employers who have a blanket policy of not hiring people with any criminal history are likely turning down job candidates from minority groups as a result of that policy, since some minority groups have a much higher arrest and conviction rate than the general population. The EEOC released new guidance that instructed employers on how to properly handle this issue earlier this year to protect against disparate impact.
Among the guidance, the EEOC made an important distinction between arrests and convictions. Many employers would see an arrest on someone's record and treat it like they had been convicted of a crime, even if arrest didn't lead to charges or a conviction. Allowing employers to treat arrests and convictions in the same way would undermine the justice system's notion of being innocent until proven guilty.
Employers or employees who are concerned about this type of discrimination should contact an employment law attorney to find out more about the issue.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, "New EEOC rules in criminal histories may affect small business hiring," Robb Mandelbaum, June 26, 2012.